Since email has become a primary avenue for communication and marketing, we all end up getting so many emails a day! Email can quickly become a time suck that keeps you from taking care of far more important things. It doesn’t have to be that way! You don’t keep every single piece of snail mail you get, right? (I really, really hope you don’t!) You shouldn’t be keeping every single email in your inbox either!
I started working toward inbox zero about 5 years ago. It was hard at first. I had a large number of emails to take care of and not much of an idea where to start. It took me a really long time to establish a workflow that was efficient for me and allowed me to maintain an empty inbox with little effort. The steps I’m sharing here are the ones I eventually used for my own inbox, and I’ve also used these same steps to help others achieve inbox zero.
There are a lot of ways to get to inbox zero, and you could find many different blog posts about it. Ultimately, the best way is the way that works for your specific inbox and organizational strategies. Here is my plan of attack for an out-of-control inbox.
***These tips will be for Gmail, but you can use these strategies with any email provider.***
Getting in the Habit
The first thing you should do is get yourself in habit of taking care of every single email that comes in every single day. When I first starting trying to get to inbox zero, I set up a morning routine for myself that included checking my email, social media accounts, and Trello boards. I chose to check my email first because it was the thing I looked forward to the least, and I wouldn’t let myself move on until I had taken care of all new messages.
Creating a Workflow for Dealing with Email
At this point, you will also want to set up a workflow for taking care of the emails. Any emails that will take less than two minutes to address should be addressed right way. If an email will take longer than that, you need to decide where it will go until you address it. I have some suggestions about using folders and forwarding emails to Trello that you can reference to help you set up your workflow.
Setting a Schedule for Checking Email
Next, you should set up a schedule for checking your email throughout the day. The last thing you should do is attempt to get to inbox zero by monitoring your email all day unless your job actually requires that. It might seem contradictory to check your email less, but if you are able to batch your tasks and not interrupt your other work, you will have much more time to get things done. Multitasking is great except that it isn’t. It breaks up your focus and concentration which means that you will always be putting forth less than your full effort for every single task. Which also means that you are not working at your optimal efficiency. I clear my inbox when I start for the day and before every major break (like lunchtime and quitting for the day). This usually works out to 3 times a day but could be more or less depending on the day. Experiment and find what works best for you, but remember that the time you spend in your email is time you aren’t spending doing other things that could be more valuable.
Clearing the Backlog of Emails
Once you have committed to your habit, workflow, and schedule for a couple of days, it’s time to start whittling down your backlog of emails. Follow these steps, and you’ll be there in no time!
1. Make a list of subscriptions, newsletters, notices of statements from your bank or credit cards, and anything else you receive on a regular basis that isn’t necessarily important. Remember that notices of bank and credit card statements don’t actually include the statement itself so there’s really no reason to keep the email.
2. Now that you have your list, use the search bar in Gmail to find all the emails from one of the sources you identified in Step 1.
3. Then click on the “Select” dropdown menu and choose “All” to select all of the resulting emails.
4. All you have to do now is choose whether to archive or trash these emails. Only archive emails that you think you might have to reference in the future. Nearly everything on the list from above should go to your trash.
5. Repeat these steps for every item on your list from Step 1.
6. You should have already reduced your inbox by a huge amount. Now you can start working on the rest of the emails. You can either go through them one by one or you can continue to use the search bar to take care of larger batches at a time.
By following the above steps, you should be able to drastically reduce the number of emails in your main inbox, if not actually achieve inbox zero. Now all you have to do is maintain by following sticking with your habits, workflow, and schedule!
I want to know if this helped you! Comment with how many emails you started with and how long it took you to get to inbox zero!